Joint Press Availability With Pakistani Advisor to the Prime Minister on National Security and Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz

Press Availability
John Kerry
Secretary of State
Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Islamabad, Pakistan
January 13, 2015


MR. AZIZ: Thank you very much for waiting for this event. Let me begin by welcoming Secretary Kerry and his team to Islamabad for this ministerial review of the Strategic Dialogue. We had a very useful and productive exchange of views on a wide range of bilateral issues. Relation with USA, as you all know, are a vital component of our foreign policy. The Strategic Dialogue provides us with a forum to discuss all aspect of our bilateral relationship. In our discussion today and yesterday, we took stock of the progress made in the six working groups within the Strategic Dialogue process since the last review in January 2014, and to identify areas of further collaboration and cooperation.

The working groups covered a wide range of issues and sectors, including cooperation in economy, energy, defense cooperation, nuclear issues, counterterrorism, and law enforcement, and the recently established working group that focuses on education, science, and technology. We also discussed the regional situation; Pakistan wants peaceful relations with all its neighbors, both our eastern and western borders. With India, we want a constructive, sustained, and result-oriented dialogue on all issues of mutual concern. The cancellation of the foreign secretary-level talks by India followed by the recent incidents of unprovoked and indiscriminate firing on the LOC and the working boundary are a source of serious concern to us. We hope, therefore, that U.S., as an influential member of the international community, can prevail upon India to work with Pakistan towards regional peace and economic prosperity.

I also briefed Secretary Kerry about several positive developments in the past three months that have helped to improve Pakistan’s relations with Afghanistan, and emphasized the importance of larger assistance from the global community for reconstruction and development in Afghanistan. We agreed that peace and stability in Afghanistan was an essential prerequisite for stability in Pakistan and the region. Secretary Kerry welcomed in his remarks the resolute steps taken – initiated by Pakistan to counter the menace of terrorism through the national action plan and related (inaudible). We agreed on the importance of expanding trade between the two countries. I urged Secretary Kerry to consider various proposals to provide greater market access to Pakistan, and said that Pakistan is eagerly awaiting the joint U.S.-Pakistan Business Opportunities Conference that is scheduled to be held in March 2015.

With these brief remarks, I invite Secretary Kerry for his comments.

SECRETARY KERRY: Thank you, Sartaj. Assalamu alaikum. I’m happy to be here with all of you. Thank you for waiting for us to be able to have a chance to have a conversation with you. It’s a pleasure for me to be back in Pakistan. And on my last visit, I announced with Prime Minister Sharif the resumption of our Strategic Dialogue. We agreed that a reinvigorated Strategic Dialogue would foster a more comprehensive and mutually beneficial partnership, that it was a way to work through some of the differences, but also to establish our priorities together, and to be able to measure whether or not we are, in fact, making progress. Based on the discussions that we’ve had today and yesterday – last night particularly, a lengthy dinner with the prime minister and his top security team – I’m pleased to report that we are making progress on those goals.

Now it’s no secret that the United States and Pakistan have had disagreements here and there. But our relationship is a mature relationship. We’re able to work through these with an understanding that we have larger goals and larger interests that we need to stay focused on. Our people – both of our peoples deserve that we talk openly and honestly and directly. And as Mr. Aziz and I reaffirmed today, our common interests far outweigh our differences.

Never has the reality been more clear about that than it was on December 16th. The brutal murder of your children was felt by every parent and citizen in the United States. No one needed a reminder of the Taliban’s utter disregard for human life and for freedom. Now, we have seen it firsthand in the most graphic and horrible way. And what those who perpetrated this cowardly attack did not count on – what they never count on, but they should – is that it only strengthens our shared resolve.

Just as we stand with the people of France at this difficult hour, America will continue to stand with the people of Pakistan as they build a future that is free from the threat of violent extremism, wherever, whenever, and by whomever that is perpetrated. The effort to build that future that is free from this threat obviously includes a military component. It demands a strong and a transparent system of justice. And it requires a commitment from all of us who want to win the battle of ideas that we recognize that those who would support or tolerate attacks on schools, attacks on children, attacks on women and a war waged on those people – they are rightly left isolated and deserted and alone.

In my discussions today with Prime Minister Sharif, yesterday and today with the national security advisor and his team, I emphasized that the United States is committed to deepening our security partnership with Pakistan in order to eliminate threats in the border area and elsewhere. The tragedy of December 16th is really a reminder of the serious risks of allowing extremists to find space and to be able to command that space and operate within it. I welcome the strong consensus forged by Prime Minister Sharif and Pakistan’s leaders about the importance of combating all terrorists. Terror groups like the Pakistani and the Afghan Taliban, the Haqqani Network, Lashkar-e-Tayyiba, and other groups continue to pose a threat not just to Pakistan and its neighbors, but also to the United States and the world.

Pakistani forces deserve enormous credit for the ongoing military operations that they have already undertaken in North Waziristan and elsewhere, and these operations have already produced significant results. But make no mistake: The task is a difficult one and it is not done. We all have a responsibility to ensure that these extremists are no longer able to secure a foothold in this country or elsewhere.

Now as I underscored during our Strategic Dialogue, the relationship between Pakistan and the United States is not only about threats. It is not only about counterterrorism. It is also about building – building on opportunities that we have to create ties that make both countries more secure, more stable, more prosperous, more democratic.

Since my last visit, we have developed a Joint Action Plan to expand bilateral trade and investment over five years. The U.S.-Pakistan Economic and Finance Working Group met recently to identify ways to increase our economic cooperation. Ambassador Olson, the American ambassador here in Pakistan, had led a delegation of prominent Pakistani officials in the information technology sector, and they went to Silicon Valley in California to look at the possibilities of increased economic engagement. And in October, we introduced U.S. investors to the Diamer Basha Dam project.

For the last five years, we’ve also worked with Pakistan to add 1,400 megawatts to its power grid, which is enough electricity for more than 16 million local citizens. We have built or renovated more than 900 schools and created 18 partnerships between American and Pakistani universities. I was especially pleased today to announce the addition of a sixth working group to our Strategic Dialogue, a working group on education, science, and technology.

Mr. Aziz and I also discussed the challenges in Afghanistan. I want to be clear that while the United States’ role in Afghanistan is changing, it is not ending. We remain deeply engaged in Afghanistan and in the region. And we will continue to train and assist Afghan forces as they secure their country. We will continue to consult closely with Pakistani leaders on recent developments in Afghanistan. And we’re very pleased with the visits and the exchanges at high levels that have taken place between Afghanistan and Pakistan, and today, we reaffirmed our shared commitment to a stable, unified, and prosperous Afghanistan that is at peace with its neighbors.

We also discussed practical steps to promote regional economic and security cooperation. Prime Minister Sharif deserves a lot of credit for his leadership in reaching out to his neighbors to build peace and understanding. And I can’t emphasize enough that it is profoundly in the interests of Pakistan and India to move their relationship forward. This is the hardest kind of work. It means you have to put a lot of time and effort into overcoming historical mistrust and past events, enmities that have come from that history. And you have to create a path for sustainable peace through dialogue. We applaud the efforts to do so and we encourage both Pakistan and India to re-engage. And the United States will do whatever we can to try to help in that effort.

So with that, I thank my colleague Sartaj and my friend for his enduring partnership. We look forward to the serious dialogue and discussion that we’ve been able to have, to see it continue and be productive, and we particularly look forward to continuing to see the United States and Pakistan march down this road towards a partnership and democracy. Thank you.

MODERATOR: Thank you. Ladies and gentlemen, (inaudible).

QUESTION: Thank you. This is (inaudible). I’m from the (inaudible) news group of newspaper. I’m here, sir. Welcome to Pakistan. It’s good omen that with your arrival, we had a recent change of weather after long dry spell in Pakistan, Islamabad especially, Mr. Kerry.

SECRETARY KERRY: If you like the weather, I’ll take credit for it. If you don’t – (laughter) --

QUESTION: Yeah, yeah. You are (inaudible) to take the credit for that.

Mr. Secretary, as you are coming from India, you must be aware of the fact that there is going on – going – shelling and fighting from the Indian side on LOC and working boundary in Pakistan. Did you discuss with your Indian host while you were there this development on the working boundary and LOC? And don’t you think that this situation is undermining Pakistan’s capacity to fight with the terrorism and extremism here and on the border area with Afghanistan? Thank you, sir.

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, we did – of course we had some discussion about it, but I did the same thing in India that I did here: I encouraged the parties to have a dialogue. This is not something that the United States or some other country is going to resolve. It’s something that India and Pakistan have to resolve between them. And it will require leadership that steps over these historical differences and is prepared to try to engage in a real dialogue about those things that matter to both sides. And we encourage that. We hope that that can take place.

We are concerned about the rise of the number of incidents on the border and line of control. Clearly, it is in everybody’s interest to find a way to resolve these kinds of differences peacefully, and we encourage the parties to do so.

MS. PSAKI: Michael Gordon from The New York Times.

QUESTION: Mr. Advisor, Pakistani officials have said that your government is determined to take on all militant groups, and not just the Pakistani Taliban. And as you know, the United States has long implored Pakistan to crack down on the Haqqani Network, on the Afghan Taliban, on Lashkar-e Tayyiba, groups that have found a sanctuary in Pakistan, and some experts say sometimes enjoy passive and even active support from some elements of your government. What specific steps has Pakistan taken in recent weeks against the Haqqani Network, the Afghan Taliban, and LET? And what concrete actions are you planning to take in the near future?

And for Secretary Kerry, are you satisfied that Pakistan is now prepared to take on the full range of militant groups? And how will the United States help Pakistan concretely in this regard? Thank you.

SECRETARY KERRY: How will what?

QUESTION: The United States assist Pakistan in this effort? Thank you.

MR. AZIZ: First of all, as you know, the policy which was announced soon after 16 December is very clear: that action will be taken without discrimination against all groups. Now the national action plan for this purpose has been formulated only two weeks ago, and it has got several dimensions, and work has started. So obviously, you will see as the days go by how different segments of this action plan are taken up and different action is taken.

But as far as Haqqani Network is concerned, since after the North Waziristan operation, their infrastructure is totally destroyed, and our commitment to Afghanistan not to allow our territory to be used against any other country would not have been possible unless we had taken this operation in North Waziristan. So to that extent, their ability to operate from here across to Afghanistan has virtually disappeared. As far as other groups are concerned, as times come, you see how the operation – this national action plan moves forward and how action is taken. But the policy guidelines and the direction is very clear.

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, the – we’ve been very clear with the highest levels of the Government of Pakistan that Pakistan has to target all militant groups, the Haqqani Network and others, that target U.S. coalition and Afghan forces and target people in Pakistan and elsewhere. And Pakistan has made it very clear that they intend to do so, and we talked about those plans during the course of last night, and that will be an ongoing conversation.

But we have urged Pakistan for some period of time to engage in an operation that would begin to target the western part of the country, the tribal areas, and they have done so. They have initiated a very extensive, costly – costly in terms of lives and other ways – effort to break up the nest, so to speak, of the Haqqani Network. There is a – I think somewhere in the vicinity of 170,000 troops allocated, which is a very significant portion of Pakistani forces allocated in the western part of the country engaged in that effort, and increased cooperation now in our intelligence and our military-to-military in discussing how this process will continue forward.

There have also been additional discussions that have been, thus far, productive between Pakistan and Afghanistan. And just in the last days, two top military officials and the intelligence chief traveled to Afghanistan to have conversations about these ongoing operations. Now obviously, the proof is going to be in the pudding. It will be seen over the next days, weeks, months how extensive and how successful this effort is going to be. But the United States is prepared to continue to augment our own intelligence efforts, our own cooperation. We are continuing on many different fronts to assist Pakistan, ranging from the direct mil-to-mil – military-to-military discussions and intelligence sharing, as well as, on the other side of the relationship that I discussed today, where we are engaged in a U.S.-Pakistan energy working group under the Strategic Dialogue. We’re funding major infrastructure initiatives and efforts to help produce something behind what they are doing in terms of any dislocation of people and otherwise.

Let me be more specific: We announced yesterday, I believe, over $200 million, $250 million that will be allocated specifically to assist with relocation, with providing shelter and food and the rebuilding of those areas where this military operation has taken place so that something comes in behind the military operation that can build a more sustainable set of possibilities for the citizens there. So this is already ongoing, but will be further developed as Pakistan develops its own plans. What’s important is there’s a level of openness and frankness in this discussion that is different from what has preceded it. There is a publicly stated commitment and decision that there will not be a distinction between good or bad folks who fit into one terrorist category or another. All terrorism is unacceptable, and, as I say, the proof will be in the actions that are taken more fully over the course of the next weeks.

MODERATOR: (Inaudible.)

QUESTION: Secretary Kerry, this is (inaudible). Thank you for sharing condolence over Peshawar incident, but the fact remains that some of the linkages of Peshawar incident were found in Afghanistan. And the fact remains that Pakistani Talibans who have been hiding in safe havens on Afghan territory, they have been behind this tragic incident.

And U.S. forces and ISAF have been electing to carry out attacks to destroy such safe havens on Afghan territory. And these Pakistani TTP militants choose to get funding, training, and support from Indian intelligence through their network in Afghanistan. We need your take on this, that – how U.S. would be urging India to end this type of proxy war against Pakistan using Afghan territory.

And a question to Mr. Advisor: You said in a recent interview that India is willing to talk to Pakistan minus Kashmir. So what do you think? So if, minus Kashmir, can talks between India and Pakistan resume, or it will remain, then, suspended? Thank you.

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, you made a lot of assumptions in your question which may or may not be factual in terms of who’s doing what, where, and how, and I’m not going to get into all of that.

Clearly, there are sanctuaries, and clearly sanctuaries have existed. And we have been talking about sanctuaries for a long period of time with our friends in Pakistan. There have been other operations that have taken place against those sanctuaries over the course of the last years. I think it’s sufficient to say that we are very pleased that at this moment, the government has refocused its energy, initiated a major initiative to deal with that sanctuary, and our military and intelligence personnel are talking very seriously about the road ahead to help deal with it as effectively as possible.

Clearly, the opening of the dialogue between Prime Minister Sharif and President Ghani is a very important step, and that has the prospect of ultimately having some impact on this challenge. But I think it’s sufficient to say that the events of December 16th may well have changed the range of options with respect to those sanctuaries, and that is something that will be discussed and developed over the course of the next weeks and months.

MR. AZIZ: I’m sure you’re aware of media reports which concluded that since the talks at the foreign secretary level on 25th August were canceled because of the high commissioner’s meeting with Kashmiri leaders, it is a signal that India wants to de-emphasize a serious discussion on Kashmir, so that was the context in which – I did not say there is a formal proposal that we are ready to resume dialogue without Kashmir. I said the expectation on the Indian side is that dialogue should be held on their terms, on their priorities. So we are still hoping for – because they canceled the dialogue, the initiative is on their part. But the question of holding any dialogue by excluding Kashmir and not focusing on this issue is out of the question.

MS. PSAKI: The final question will be from Carol Morello of The Washington Post.

QUESTION: Mr. Advisor, you said most of the tribal areas are now secure, and Pakistan will give no quarter to the enemies of Pakistan in the civilized world. So after the military campaign is over and the money the Secretary mentioned helps you rebuild schools and roads, what will your government do to reach out to the residents so they do not feel so alienated from Islamabad, and ensure that in a few years or even a few months, these areas do not once again become breeding grounds for militants and terrorists? Thank you.

MR. AZIZ: First of all, the factual position, we have cleared almost 85 to 90 percent of the North Waziristan area. Some areas are still clearing, operations are going on, and some also near the Khyber Agency. So that will take time, but substantially, that statement is true.

The rehabilitation of the internally displaced person is a very important challenge. As you know, there are more than a million, and it is not just – their infrastructure obviously is destroyed; their shops, their houses, as well as a number of other facilities, common facilities. So unless – there are some areas, the damage is not so much, so if you pay people enough money to go and build their houses, they can go back earlier. So that phase will start fairly soon.

But then in a large number of areas, the infrastructure is totally destroyed, and may take six months, 12 months for rebuilding that infrastructure. The estimated cost of all this rebuilding and reconstruction is close to $1.5-2 billion, and the finance minister has been in touch with a number of donors in the last few days to solicit support for some of these activities. So far, all the expenditure on keeping these people and feeding them has been borne by Pakistan itself, and we hope that in the coming months, the plans are under implementation; it’s not waiting for money. But I think in the next 12 months or so, the momentum of people going back will – but obviously, you don’t want people to go back without their necessity, housing and other facilities in which they can carry on either their shops or their other activities. So I hope that this process will gather momentum in the coming days and months, and the international community will fully cooperate with this very important task.

MODERATOR: Thank you. Thank you, ladies and gentlemen.